Orlando City put in a good performance for 45 minutes but could not maintain it for the full 90. Atlanta United (16-4-6, 54 points) got a second-half goal from Josef Martinez — his record-breaking 28th of the season — to snap a 1-1 deadlock and win, 2-1, in front of 25,058 fans at Orlando City Stadium. The Lions (7-16-2, 23 points) dropped to 0-4-2 in the all-time series and are now winless in six (0-5-1).
It was a workmanlike effort from Orlando City, which was missing midfielders Yoshimar Yotún and Cristian Higuita due to suspension, but the defensive shape throughout the match was mostly good and Atlanta didn’t get its usual number of great scoring chances, despite a final shot advantage of 19-6.
“Obviously very disappointed. It was a game we wanted to try and win for the supporters,” Head Coach James O’Connor said after the match. “When you look at the level of the performance, I think it wasn’t good enough. We need to be honest with ourselves. For where we want to get to and where we’re going to get to, we need levels of performance that are higher.”
O’Connor’s lineup included the return of Jonathan Spector from a hamstring injury and the debut of Carlos Ascues. Sacha Kljestan (ankle) and Mohamed El-Munir (coach’s decision) were not in the 18.
The Lions got the first good look at goal three minutes into the match. Chris Mueller took the ball up the left side and faked his way past three defenders across the top of the box before Atlanta closed on him. The ball deflected wide to Will Johnson, who fired a blast that forced a diving save by Brad Guzan.
Atlanta’s first decent effort came two minutes later when Jeff Larentowicz was left in space above the penalty area. The midfielder smashed a shot that forced Joe Bendik into a diving stop. Four minutes later, Bendik made a comfortable save on Hector Villalba, who cut inside of PC and fired from the top of the area.
Josue Colmán fired wide after a nice buildup play in the 13th minute. Dom Dwyer sprayed the ball wide for Mueller, who found Colmán just inside the area. Two minutes later, PC blasted a shot from the left that Guzan tipped over the net for a corner.
Atlanta broke the scoreless deadlock in the 21st minute after Uri Rosell was whistled for a foul in the defensive third, handing the visitors a free kick. Rosell tried to play a 50/50 ball and extended his leg, which Chris McCann ran into from the side. Ezequiel Barco took the set piece and fired a one-hopper right at Bendik. The Orlando keeper misplayed the hop and it deflected straight to Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, who bundled it in off of Bendik to make it 1-0.
The game slowed down a bit for the next 10 minutes or so before the next good opportunity. Miguel Almiron tried his luck from long range and Bendik didn’t seem to pick it up right away, eventually diving to keep the score at 1-0 in the 35th minute.
Orlando leveled the match four minutes later. As the attack switched from left to right, the ball found its way to Ascues, who gave it to Mueller. Mueller found Johnson, who flicked a backheel into the path of Scott Sutter. The fullback smashed a knuckling shot past Guzan to tie the game in the 39th minute.
“It was a good play by the guys,” Sutter said. “We knew that they were quite vulnerable if you switch the side quickly and I think we did that. I think it was Chris who played the ball inside and Will laid it off perfectly. I took it in my stride and closed my eyes and struck the ball. It was one of my better goals I’ve scored in my career but it all led to nothing, unfortunately.”
Atlanta nearly pulled that goal right back after the restart. An attack down the right managed to get in behind the defense and a pass to Martinez seemed to set him up for an easy goal to set the all-time MLS goal-scoring mark for a single season. Spector got back and did just enough to throw Martinez off and the shot trickled just wide of the right post. That was the last good opportunity for either team in the half and the teams went to their locker rooms all even at 1-1.
Atlanta led in shots (9-4), shots on target (6-3), possession (60%-40%), and passing accuracy (91%-88%), but if not for a big miscue by Bendik, the Lions would have led at the half.
The second half largely consisted of long spells of Atlanta possession above the Orlando City penalty area but not a lot of dangerous attacking movements.
Atlanta got the first dangerous chances of the second half, with Almiron firing a shot over the bar in the 47th minute and Gonzalez Pirez sending a header wide off a free kick two minutes later. In the 55th minute, Bendik made a vital save to deny Villalba and Spector cleared the rebound out of harm’s way. Martinez got onto a cross in the 58th but sent his shot right at Bendik.
Bendik then made back-to-back saves in the 61st minute to keep the game stalemated.
The visitors finally broke through on the counter in the 74th minute after Mueller lost the ball at the top of Atlanta’s penalty area. The ball was cleared out to Villalba, who found Gressel on the right side. Gressel slipped a ball past Rosell, who mistimed his challenge, allowing Martinez to get in behind, where he patiently waited for Bendik to commit and scored the game winner.
Orlando City’s best opportunity to pull a goal back came in the 79th minute. Second-half sub Pierre Da Silva — seeing only his second MLS game action ever — won a corner kick and Johnson delivered an excellent near-post cross to Dwyer, who flicked a header on target. Guzan stuck out a hand to get just enough of it to keep it out and preserve Atlanta’s lead.
From that point on, Orlando continued to try to throw numbers forward and Atlanta seemed destined to get a third on the counter but nothing materialized for either team and the Lions simply couldn’t maintain possession long enough to create anything on the offensive end.
Atlanta led the stat sheet in shots (19-6), shots on target (10-4), possession (62%-38%), and passing accuracy (91%-85%). Orlando managed only a measly two shots after halftime.
“They pinned us in and they were keeping the ball, so for us it needs to be better,” O’Connor said. “When we had the ball we were giving the ball away in needless areas. Our decision making was really poor and we’ve got guys who are better than they showed tonight. That’s the really frustrating thing.”
“Today I don’t think it was good enough,” Sutter said. “James let us know that at the end of the game. I think we just need to improve in every which way.”
One of the bright spots for Orlando City was Ascues, who played 67 minutes in his debut and looked solid after only a week of training with his new team.
“I thought to be fair to him, I thought he battled away,” O’Connor said. “I think all things considered he can be pleased. He gave a very encouraging performance for sure.”
“I feel very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the starting (lineup) today,” Ascues said through a club translator. “I think that I had a good debut but I’m not happy that we weren’t able to get the result.”
The Lions are back in action next Saturday when the Philadelphia Union visit Orlando City Stadium at 7:30 p.m.